It’s a dirty word to aspiring writers. It is even unpopular among many agents and editors. It elicits snarls and sneers from people who just want to write great stuff and get their writing published.
I’m talking, of course, about the word “Platform.”
It refers to the extent of a writer’s influence. It answers the questions, “How big is your audience? How many people are already reading what you write? How many people are in your sphere of influence?” It helps a prospective publisher weigh not only on the quality of a person’s writing but also whether that person is capable of partnering with a publisher in the Herculean task of getting recognition and readers for a new book.
In one of my first blog posts as an agent, I wrote:
I am looking for people who are already having an impact. They are writing blog posts that a lot of people read, share, and subscribe to. They are connecting and engaging with large numbers of people on social media. They are speaking at events large and small, far and wide. They are not waiting for readers, listeners, and followers to come to them, they are already engaging with people about their genre and topic.
To some people, however, that’s an unfair standard. Numerous aspiring authors have expressed dismay at my insistence on a healthy and growing platform. One replied to my coaching efforts by saying, “I am not a ‘celebrity’ and have no desire to be. My sole goal is to be faithful, not famous.”
What kind of commercial publisher—who has a responsibility to owners, board members, shareholders, employees, and future customers—would be anxious to sign and publish someone who doesn’t understand that obscurity is not a selling point? That “A good name is better than fine perfume” (Ecclesiastes 7:1, NIV)? That a worthwhile message doesn’t have to wait until a book release to start having an impact?
If you owned a publishing house, would you look for writers who are waiting for their books to be published before building a following? Or would you want someone who is clearly passionate about a message and already networking with people, gathering a tribe, honing a message, experimenting with new technology, and using every resource available to say important things in impactful ways?
I think the question answers itself. As an agent, I’m willing to wait for a writer to demonstrate the willingness to learn, the desire to improve, and the ability to communicate well that will inspire blog or email newsletter subscribers, Facebook and Twitter followers, seminar audiences, radio listeners, and whatever else will say to an editor and publisher, “My sole goal is to reach people, even if that means I end up being famous.”
That is why I use the word platform. And why I look for writers who are building one.